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NHS sued over woman's death

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TRAGIC DEATH: Beverley Johnson
TRAGIC DEATH: Beverley Johnson

THE mother of a woman who committed suicide is taking legal action against the mental health trust.

Beverley Johnson, who suffered from manic depression, hanged herself from a tree in the garden of the family home in Medina Avenue, Whitstable, aged 37.

Now her mother, Maureen O'Reilly, is involved in a legal battle with the East Kent NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust. She alleges the trust was negligent in the care of her daughter.

Although she had battled depression for 20 years, Beverley won a place on an access course to study nursing at Canterbury Christ Church University College in 1999.

Two years later, her academic success was officially recognised by Christ Church when the college made its first posthumous award, which was received by her mother.

Beverley's death followed a period of illness spanning from September 1999 to her death on May 10, 2000. During that time she came under the care of the local mental health service, primarily St Martin's Hospital, Canterbury.

She had made three previous attempts to take her own life and underwent hospital admissions under section in October 1999 and January-February 2000.

Mrs O'Reilly said of the trust: "There was an appalling level of inertia and on some occasions when Beverley was with me, she should have been in hospital care.

"The system lacked co-ordination. Meanwhile, Beverley was evaporating in front of me. She wouldn't eat, she wouldn't wash, her hair was matted, it was distressing."

Mrs O'Reilly spoke following the case of Elizabeth Thorp, who was found hanged in St Martin's Hospital just hours after her husband had left her there believing she would be safe. A review of mental health services in east Kent is now under way and one option could be the closure of St Martin's.

Mrs O'Reilly has decided to take her plea for reforms to the system to Julian Brazier, MP for Canterbury and Whitstable. She also wants to have her voice heard by the panel reviewing the mental health service.

At Beverley's inquest in July 2000, Mrs O'Reilly expressed concern about the treatment and care provided by the trust. She met trust representatives in September 2000, when it was agreed that a number of issues would be investigated informally.

In June 2001, she informed the trust's chief executive, David Parr, that she wished to complain formally about the level of care given to Beverley.

The trust arranged with social services to undertake a joint investigation into Mrs O'Reilly's complaint. Mrs O'Reilly was disappointed by the result and took her case to an Independent Review Panel, which upheld her complaint in September last year.

Her solicitor, Nick Fairweather, said: "It concluded that it is probable that Beverley's death could have been avoided if she had remined in hospital in receipt of adequate treatment. She was prematurely discharged when she was clearly psychotic and depressed.

"Clinicians and carers were disempowered and compromised by long-standing internal management issues that were not addressed by the most senior managers in the trust."

The panel criticised the consultant's handling of the case and the trust's record-keeping and questioned sectioning procedures carried out.

Mrs O'Reilly added: "I won't go down the garden path to that beech tree. I feel incandescent with the mental health authorities.

"What disturbs me most is that if you can't turn to the professionals, where can you turn for help in cases like this?"

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